Central Lee girls win Keokuk Invitational

Notre Dame's Gabby Deery goes for a kill past a block from HTC's Mary Kate Bendlage and Bailey Hellweg, as Claire Pothitakis looks for the tip. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC

Holy Trinity takes 2nd in three-way tiebreaker after downing Hawks in finale


KEOKUK – After more than 50 sets of volleyball at the Keokuk Invitational Saturday, a points tiebreaker gave the title to Central Lee.

On the final game of the day, Holy Trinity Catholic downed the Hawks 21-16, 21-18, giving both Holy Trinity and Central Lee a 4-1 record on the day.

Burlington Notre Dame also had four wins on the day and a loss to Central Lee. The Nikes beat HTC, who came into the tournament as the state’s top Class 1A team, in a 15-11 tiebreaker.

Central Lee gave up a total of 64 points on the day, compared to HTC’s 80. The Nikes took 3rd place at the tournament.

The Hawks opened the day with a 21-8, 21-13 win over Burlington Notre Dame. The Nikes would then go on to knock off No. 3 New London and Holy Trinity, along with Van Buren and Keokuk.

Central Lee’s Mya Merschman (8) tries a single block on Van Buren’s Chelsey Huff’s (10) attack in the first game of the Crusaders match with the Warrior. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC

Central Lee Head Coach Amy Cook said her girls were able to stop the Nikes big hitters in junior Katy Stephens and sophomore Gabby Deery.

“We finally all came together. We had a rough start the last couple weeks., but we did make some changes with our setting and I definitely think our girls pushed through today, said Central Lee Head Coach Amy Cook.

“Our blocking was there. They’ve got some good hitters, but we honed in on ’em and were able shut down their main attacks.”

The Hawks beat Van Buren 21-2, 25-23, Keokuk 21-9, 21-10 and New London in three 12-21, 21-11, 15-9.

Holy Trinity rolled past New London in the morning match 21-12, 21-17. The Tigers came into the tourney ranked No. 3 in Class 1A, but had a tough tournament with losses to Notre Dame, Central Lee and HTC.

The first set swung several directions with each team holding leads by as much as three. A Claire Pothitakis kill put Holy Trinity up 14-9 and the Crusader would stretch it to 17-12 on block of a Keaura Williams attack. HTC would score the next four to put the set away.

Holy Trinity’s Brooke Mueller (23) attacks while Gabby Deery (8) leaps to put up the block with another Nike in the first set of HTC’s tiebreaker loss at the Keokuk Invitational tournament. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC

In the second set, the Crusaders jumped out to a 4-1 lead on the Tigers would come all the way back to tie things at 6 when freshman Mary Kate Bendlage’s attack went out the back. A service error by Bailey Hellweg, one of five in the game for HTC gave New London a 10-8 lead.

Sophomore Brooke Mueller would then go to work with three kills in five points from the left outside hitter spot to give HTC a 14-11 lead. The Tigers would put another run together and got within one point when a Pothitakis attack got into the net at 18-17.

But the Crusaders would put things back together in run the set out on a kill by Hellweg.

The Crusaders would have little trouble disposing of Keokuk in the second match of the day, knocking off the Chiefs 21-17, 21-11, trailing only once at 1-2 in the first set.

Things got hairy for the Crusaders in the next match against the Nikes with Notre Dame taking the first set 21-13.

HTC was down just one 10-11 when an attack from Stephens went long. But the Nikes would go on a 10-3 run to put the first set away highlighted by two aces from Stephens that found soft spots in the center of the Crusaders receive set.

HTC bounced back racing to a 5-1 lead in the second set and stayed ahead pushing the advantage to 14-8 when Brook Mueller recorded an ace. The Nikes would only get two more points as the Crusaders quickly went looking for a tiebreaker at 21-10.

In the deciding set, Holy Trinity was down just one at 9-8 when a block of a Bendlage attack went out wide. But Notre Dame would score four unanswered to make it 13-8. The Nikes would call a time out when HTC pushed it back to three at 14-11, but a kill out of the timeout gave Notre Dame the match.

Head Coach Melissa Freesmeier said the Crusaders got away from their game in the first set with the Nikes, At one point she called three timeouts in four points in the tiebreaker to try and get reset.

“I just told them to do the little things we do in practice. We didn’t do that in that game, Freesmeier said.

“We never got that spark going and that hurt us in game 1. We came back (in game two) and had it, but we let it get away. We missed serves and serves received and kinda got in our own heads a bit.”

The Crusaders would cruise by Van Buren 21-8, 21-18, and then got a bit of a break while Central Lee was beating New London, before downing the Lady Hawks 21-16, 21-18.

The Hawks were led by Merschman at the net with 42 kills for the tourney. Macy Watkins had 94 assists on the day and 10 blocks. Zoe Eschman had seven aces for Central lee and Makayla Morrison had 20 digs on the day.

Cook said the key for the day for the Hawks was taking down the Nikes quickly to start the tourney, because it helped with their point total and kept the girls’ legs fresh.

“Probably the main thing was that we took Notre Dame down in two quick sets. That helped keep our points down,” she said.

“With the much volleyball you’re gonna be tired, but you gotta fight through that and keep going.”

Freesmeier said back-to-back volleyball like Saturdays teaches the girls they can’t take a match, or a point for that matter, off.

“You don’t have that option in events like this, which is great because it will work on their mental toughness and spirit,” she said.

She said with the tournament featuring some of the best hitters in the area, the Crusader’s defense kept a lot of things going.

“Our defense is stepping up and getting better every day. Anna (Sobczak) comes in off the bench and picking up tips. Maria (Rauenbuehler) and Taylor are solid and they have to continue to do what they do. They don’t get the recognition sometimes that the hitters get but we know they’re there.”

HTC, Keokuk and Central Lee will join Fort Madison Monday in a quadrangular at Shottenkirk Gym in Fort Madison, in what is usually the Holy Trinity Classic. The coronavirus has forced the Classic this year into a double quad with matches at HTC and at Winfield. Play starts Monday at 4 p.m.

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